Posted tagged ‘gravel’

a good Saturday at Roundrock

April 23, 2019

I may not have given enuf heed to the weather forecast when it spoke of the nighttime temps falling close to freezing on Friday. Surely, I had thought, a day reaching into the sixties followed by a day in the seventies could not produce a night between them that would be c-c-c-cold! But it was. Through the night I kept pulling the blankets over my chilled shoulders and even covering my head with the warm afghan my mother had knitted me when I was a wee lad.

I did my best to stay in bed as long as I could but finally rose around 7:00 (which discerning readers will know is a whole four hours later than my normal Saturday rise), hoping the mid-April sun would quickly warm the air. Didn’t happen. But stir I must, and I pulled on my cold clothes to face the day, vowing it was time to pack the truck and head home. (I also hoped that the phoebe had returned to her nest for the night to sit on her eggs and keep them warm.)

But my wife wanted breakfast, which consisted of assorted fruits and bowls of hot oatmeal prepared over a (dodgy) propane stove. And this consumed, I began to feel the day take shape. The morning chorus had begun by then, and a pair of ducks that may have spent the night on our lake below, took themselves into the air for whatever business they had elsewhere. And as it always the case on a chilly morning, the inside of the cabin was colder than the outside, so getting up and getting out and moving around soon warmed my reluctant body and I began to think the day might hold some promise after all.

My tree cutting plans being thwarted the day before, I turned my thoughts to the other chore I had in mind for the weekend: spreading more gravel around the cabin to improve the firebreak and to hold off for a little while longer the incessant march of plants and small trees encroaching on the cabin.

Over the years I’ve had three loads of pea gravel delivered to the cabin site. Or rather, two. The man who installed the stone steps up to the cabin had spread the original layer gravel around the area and had left me a nice pile of gravel to use as I might. So that was the first pile. And with shovel and wheelbarrow and muscle, I had scattered it here and there, attempting to preserve and even extend the open space around the cabin. A December visit two years ago with my son-in-law and grandson (a Brooklyn child who was three at the time and so fascinated with the wilderness) saw the delivery of the second pile of gravel, which my son-in-law spent most of our visit moving to deepen and extend the open space. And then, a few months ago I had a third pile of gravel delivered, in part because I now love having a pile of gravel to play with but also because of a mix up with the crew repairing the washed out spillway on the dam that resulted in them owing me money, the amount equivalent to the cost of a load of gravel.

So Saturday would involve me filling the wheelbarrow a few times and spreading the gravel around the cabin. I’m slowly working my way outward from the cabin, going “downhill,” smoothing the rough spots and building up a layer of gravel that I hope will be deep enuf to keep the weeds and scrub from finding a foothold. (I’m told about two to four inches is enuf.) It’s a big job, bigger than in seems when I’m imagining getting it done in a day. The space to the east of the cabin, where the fire ring is, is roughly 50 x 20 feet, not counting the area where I park my truck. It has a layer of gravel on it already, but it’s thin in some places, and my wife wants at least one spot that is level so the table we set on it will also be level and our food won’t slide off. All of this requires an eye for the slope of the ground and, as it turns out, sufficient muscle to keep at the work long enuf to make a visible difference.

Here’s a tip: before you begin filling your wheelbarrow with gravel, be sure to have it pointing in the direction you will go when it’s full. I’d learned that lesson with the first pile of gravel, and I’ve been diligent about it ever since. Fortunately, that direction is also slightly down slope, which makes the delivery part of the job easier.

So I filled it and then wheeled it to the spot near the cabin where I wanted to begin the work. Tipping the wheelbarrow up, I dropped the minuscule pile of gravel in place. Hardly enuf for the need. Then I used the shovel and my feet to spread it to a more or less smooth state. (A few rainstorms and gravity will smooth it further.) I could see then that the half dozen or so loads I intended to move that day were going to make not much difference at all.

But I kept at it, now just dumping the piles in place but saving the smoothing effort for later. I think I filled and moved more than a dozen wheelbarrow loads on Saturday morning, making a noticeable difference in the original gravel pile but still only covering a space of about 6 x 6 square feet. Still, the work was getting done, and the muscles were getting a work out, and the ibuprofen was waiting for me. The depth of the layer of gravel will diminish the farther I get from the cabin, in part because of the slope of the ground but also because, for whatever reason, the scrub doesn’t seem interested in growing in that area and doesn’t need to be buried.

So I had about a dozen minuscule piles of gravel laid out, and I figured the hauling work was done for the day. Then I began to spread the piles and flatten them, keeping the general downward slope away from the cabin but making it less pronounced in areas and burying some large rocks that would sometimes catch the toe of my boot. This buried the base of a large tree about two gravel inches above the true ground level. I don’t know if this will be a problem or not. Somewhere I heard or read that the substance of the wood in a tree changes at the point where it leaves the ground, so the roots have a different characteristic than the visible trunk. I don’t know if this is true; nor do I know if “burying” the trunk in two inches of gravel will affect it, but it will be worth watching (since the tree stands close to the cabin, and I wouldn’t want it to fall that direction).

So the gravel work did make a visible difference in the area I’m slowly working on, and it left a clear indication of where the work stopped so I’ll know where to begin again on my next visit. I want to maintain an even and continuous slope away from the cabin on this side because when there are heavy rains, bits of forest debris are washed across the space. Where the gravel is higher in the path of the wash, the bits of debris collect. This shows me where the low spots are and a little bit about the flow of the water across the area. I want the flow to continue into the leaves beyond the retaining wall. The same applies to the fallen leaves that blow across the gravel. They will collect in any low spot (though less than the debris will) and pile up against any barrier (which is why I raised the wood rack two feet off the ground).

The muscles in my back suggested it was time to stop this work, so I did. Yet during the couple of hours I was at it, I first shed my hoodie and then later the cotton flannel shirt I was wearing. The April sun in the unbroken blue sky was doing a good job of warming the morning, and I was glad by then that I hadn’t packed up and left when I was cold at dawn.

Watching over me as I worked, and watching over the cabin when we are not there, are a number of masks we have hanging on the trunks of the trees. They surround the fire ring area, and there are a couple on the other side of the cabin. I’m pretty sure I’ve had interlopers visit my cabin (bits of trash, cigarette butts, and the like tell the tale), but so far these masks have not been molested. (Wasps did build a nest inside one of them once.) We had brought along a new mask to hang, and since the day was warm and the muscles were tired, I suggested we hang it, though not at the cabin.

Far up the road behind the cabin, right near the northern property line, is an old oak, much older than the trees around it, and it’s right on the edge of our road. I had hung a wooden birdhouse on it years before. The birdhouse rotted and fell (and went into the fire later), but the nail in the tree was still there. So that’s where I wanted to hang the mask. It’s a faux African mask, and I suspect it’s made of some easily reduced substance, but up it went, and here it is:


I don’t suppose it provides much menace or caution for interlopers, and it may even provide target practice, but I like having new and noticeable things appear in my forest so that anyone who happens along will see that we visit regularly. (Also, to the left in this photo is my new neighbor’s property. The first thing he did was cut down a quarter mile of trees along our mutual property line, which is his business and his right, and I don’t consider it a problem, but still, the mask!)

Not long after this, we headed back to the cabin and began packing up for the drive home. The dogs were fully in favor of this. (So odd: they are intensely eager to go to the cabin and intensely eager to leave!) This coming weekend is looking good, weatherwise, and I’m pretty sure my muscles will have recovered by then.

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As to the photo at the top of this post, I admit it’s not a very good image. What you see is a reflection of trees in the lake below the cabin. But it doesn’t look right, does it? The trees are out of focus at the top and the sky above them appears muddy. The reason for this is because I flipped the photo upside down. The trees you see the most of are the reflections. The actual trees are upside down at the bottom. And the sky you see at the top is the reflection of the sky in the lake water.

I had done this once before on my old blog, Roundrock Journal, but I didn’t explain what I had done. A number of comments said that the image was unnerving, but they couldn’t say why. That photo was in better focus too.